"If I'd have known you were coming, I'd have baked you a cake!" The Ugly Cake is that cake.
© Debby Segura
When someone in our car pool has a birthday, we pick up all the other kids first. Then we go to their house and bring them an Ugly Cake. When neighbors have a baby, it's Ugly Cake for them, too. At our house, when you get to pick dessert, inevitably, you pick Ugly Cake.
Not that Ugly Cake is really so ugly, strictly speaking. It's just for all that flavor and all that fanfare, it's really pretty simple. My best recipes always seem to come from the backs of packages. The original Ugly Cake is based on a yellow cake recipe taken straight out of a pamphlet ordered from the back of a Gold Medal flour bag (probably my best cookbook in the worst shape).
The Ugly Cake started out innocently enough. One Friday afternoon as I was whipping up a cake for Saturday lunch, it hit me: What this plain cake needs is streusel. So I crumbled a streusel topping over the batter and popped the cake into the oven. When the timer buzzed, I pulled the cake out. Lo and behold, the streusel was gone, sunk to the bottom of the pan. Saturday at lunch, I gamely tried to remove the cake from the pan, but no. It was not to be. I managed to scoop the cake out. It tasted great but it sure was ugly! The Ugly Cake was born.
The next time I made Ugly Cake I substituted two tablespoons or so of cinnamon sugar for the streusel. Voila! A lovely light yellow cake with a thin crisp of cinnamon hovering just above a golden crust. Since then, I've moved forward. I make a Nut Ugly, a Half-Chocolate Ugly and even an Upside-Down Ugly. But for simple goodness, nothing beats the Ugly Cake.
1. Ugly Cake
(makes 1 8" or 9" round cake)
1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup milk or rice milk
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Position a rack in the center of the oven. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the cake pan with cooking spray and flour it lightly. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the flour, milk, egg, baking powder and salt and mix until moistened. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat at medium for an additional three minutes. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 25 minutes or until a toothpick tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. When cooled, run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake before turning out of the pan.
2. Ugly Cake Variations
a. Nut Ugly Cake
Ugly Cake batter (a double batch)
Substitute 1 cup powdered sugar for 1 cup sugar, if a more chewy crust is desired.
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons margarine
4 ounces slivered almonds
Position a rack just below the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Make a double batch of the Ugly Cake batter, as specified. Grease an 8-10 cup Bundt pan with the margarine. Pat with the almonds into the margarine to cover the entire inside surface of the pan. Pour the batter into the pan and bake 55 minutes or until a toothpick tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, run a rubber spatula around the edges of the cake to make sure there are no sticking points, and turn out of the pan onto the serving plate.
b. Half Chocolate Ugly Cake
Ugly Cake batter
2 tablespoons cocoa
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Position a rack at the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9" round cake pan with non-stick cooking spray and flour lightly. Pour 1/3 of the batter into the prepared baking pan. Reserve 1/3 of the batter. Mix the cocoa and the almond extract into the last third of the batter. Gently spoon the cocoa batter onto the batter already in the pan evenly, covering the Ugly batter almost to the edge of the pan, leaving about a 1/2" border. Pour the reserved Ugly batter over the cocoa batter evenly to cover. Bake the cake 30 minutes or until a toothpick tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
c. Upside-Down Ugly Cake
Ugly Cake batter
3 tablespoons margarine
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 black plums, pitted and cut into 12 segments each
1/4 cup blueberries
Position a rack at the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the margarine and the brown sugar in a 9" round baking pan. Place in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes or until the margarine is melted. Distribute the margarine and brown sugar evenly in the pan. Spray the pan with non-stick cooking spray. Position the plum segments around the edge of the pan like petals around a flower. Evenly pour the blueberries into the center of the pan in a single layer, to form the center of the flower. Evenly pour the Ugly Cake batter into the pan over the top of the fruit. Bake the cake 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, except maybe some blueberry syrup.